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The Education of Fairies

Erstwhile Alejandro Amenabar producer Jose Luis Cuerda returns to his favorite theme -- the transformational power of a child-like imagination -- in the engagingly idiosyncratic "The Education of Fairies," based on a bestselling French novel.

With: Ricardo Darin, Irene Jacob, Bebe, Victor Valdivia, Jordi Bosch, Gloria Roig, Abdelaziz Arradi. (Spanish, French dialogue)

Erstwhile Alejandro Amenabar producer Jose Luis Cuerda returns to his favorite theme — the transformational power of a child-like imagination — in the engagingly idiosyncratic “The Education of Fairies,” based on a bestselling French novel. Featuring a quartet of fine perfs but also a plotline that shuttles uncertainly between timeless concerns of the heart and contempo issues, pic is perhaps best seen as a study in how to confront loss. “Education” could find pupils among Euro auds with a taste for rarefied fare, while Ricardo Darin’s presence guarantees Latin American play. Elsewhere pic reps a tough sell.

Toy inventor Nicolas (Darin) meets widowed ornithologist Ingrid (Irene Jacob) and her son Raul (Victor Valdivia) on a plane. Nicolas turns on the charm, and, soon, Nicolas and Ingrid are married and living an idyllic existence in a beautiful old house in the Catalan countryside.

Nicolas and Raul develop a sensitive relationship through conversations about the boy’s father, a soldier who died in Iraq. Theimaginative Nicolas tells the boy stories about fairies who make the world a better place and takes him to an old hut in the woods where he hung out as a child.

After a couple of years, however, Ingrid surprises Nicolas — and the audience — by asking for a separation.

Meanwhile, Algerian checkout girl Sezar (singer Bebe, here making an effective debut) is being sexually harassed by her boss Matarredona (Jordi Bosch). One night, when Sezar is in a car with her boss, the car is attacked and Sezar is beaten up.

Nicolas picks her up and takes her back to his hut in the woods, where Raul mistakes her for a fairy.

Though the project could easily have degenerated into Euro-whimsy, the script is sufficiently grounded in emotional truth. All the characters are concealing past issues, and it takes the innocence of a child to confront these issues and bring them into the open. However, references to contempo themes — sexual harassment, immigration — are insufficiently woven into the story.

Child thesp Valdivia is a real find, though his verbosity eventually gets annoying. The reliable Darin generates gripping viewing from the contrast between his world-weary exterior and his inner yearnings, but Jacob’s role, despite her powerful presence, loses aud interest after she leaves Nicolas for no apparent reason.

While several unnecessary time shifts in the early reelsbreak up the flow, visuals are often sumptuous with the lighting bringing out the rich color of the beautiful rural scenery. Attention is also paid to details, such as the raindrops on an umbrella under which Nicolas and Ingrid kiss.

Lucio Godoy’s score is delicately-wrought, attractive fare that perfectly complements the mood. Jacob’s Spanish is perhaps implausibly error-free, given her heavy French accent. There is some French dialogue.

The Education of Fairies


Production: An Alta Classics release (in Spain) of a Tornasol Films/Finales Felices/Messidor Films (Spain)/Lazennec (France)/Pol-Ka Producciones (Argentina)/Madragoa Filmes (Portugal) production with the participation of TVE, Canal Plus. (International sales: Tornasol Films, Madrid.) Produced by Gerardo Herrero, Mariela Besuievsky, Sarah Halioua, Jerome Vidal, Adrian Suar, Fernando Blanco, Paulo Branco. Directed, written by Jose Luis Cuerda, based on the novel by Didier Van Cauwelaert.

Crew: Camera (color), Hans Burmann; editor, Nacho Ruiz Capillas; music, Lucio Godoy; art director, Josep Rosell; sound (Dolby Digital), Cyril Moisson. Reviewed at Cine Princesa, Madrid, July 5, 2006. Running time: 103 MIN.

With: With: Ricardo Darin, Irene Jacob, Bebe, Victor Valdivia, Jordi Bosch, Gloria Roig, Abdelaziz Arradi. (Spanish, French dialogue)

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